Low-wage workers, especially women, immigrants, and people of color are particularly vulnerable to harassment, abuse, and discrimination in the workplace. For caregivers, the isolated and often intimate nature of our work can put us even more at risk.
For caregivers who have experienced harassment, abuse, and discrimination, the impact is more than an immediate reaction. It also affects our health, wellbeing, and quality of care. Negative health outcomes include depression, flashbacks, sleeplessness, traumatic stress disorder, and poorer physical health, which can last for years after the incident. It also leads to increased turnover among direct care workers and lower quality of care for clients.
Prevalence of harassment, abuse, and discrimination of Washington state SEIU 775 caregivers:
47% reported Verbal Abuse
24% reported Physical Violence
12% reported Sexual Harassment (Parent Providers were not asked about this)
Making it law
In 2018, an SEIU 775 caregiver reported to our Union a harrowing story of the harassment and discrimination they faced while working as a caregiver. At the time, their livelihood, housing, safety, and dignity were at risk, and there was little we as a union could to do to help them because of the lack of structures in place to address harassment, abuse, and discrimination of caregivers.
Unfortunately, the experience they went through was only one of many reported to us in the past year alone.
That’s why, in September 2019, SEIU 775 launched our HADit campaign: the campaign to address harassment, abuse, and discrimination of caregivers and make the care environment safer for everyone.
Hundreds of members from across the state went to Olympia in January and February of 2020 to talk to their legislators, thousands sent emails and called our elected representatives, and some brave members went before lawmakers and shared their stories with their heads held high, knowing the entire union was supporting them.
And in April 2020, Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed our landmark HADit legislation into law, which will protect caregivers and clients for years to come.
What caregivers passed
Passing this law was a HUGE first step. The law now requires:
- Prior information for in-home caregivers to feel more prepared: All covered employers, DSHS and their agents are now required to inform workers of instances of abusive conduct or challenging behaviors.
- Recording and reporting: Employers are now required to keep a record of any reported incidents of abusive conduct or discrimination. Incidents of challenging behaviors are not required to be recorded or reported.
- Enforcement: Labor and Industries will investigate to ensure compliance with the policy, prevention plan, informing workers, and reporting requirements.
- Prevention plans: By July 1, 2021, all home care agencies and the Consumer Direct Employer must implement a prevention plan to reduce workplace violence including clear processes for emergency responses and leaving unsafe situations.
- Training and future policy workgroup: A multi-stakeholder workgroup, including caregivers, will be convened to recommend by December 1, 2021 additional policy recommendations and training for workers, clients, and agency supervisors.
- Comprehensive written policy: By July 1, 2021, all employers must have written policies about how they will address instances of discrimination, abusive conduct, and challenging behaviors. Policies must be delivered to caregivers at least annually, in a way that everyone can understand.
- In addition to the work we did in Olympia, all our agencies have also implemented some version of our HADit asks into each of our contracts, including some or all the following:
- Advanced notice of known client behavior: When a client’s behaviors have been reported to the agency, new workers assigned to the client will be advised if those behaviors have made care challenging.
- Clear rules for reporting: Known policies and procedures for reporting health and safety issues: a specific chain of communication, documentation of issues and employer follow-up.
- Safety equipment provided: Safety equipment that is needed for job performance will be provided per the client’s care plans.
- Client-Specific Training: Some clients require special training (e.g. operation of Hoyer lifts in the home), and this puts the onus on the employer to provide training.
- Paid shifts for leaving due to health or safety concerns: If an employee feels that their health or safety is compromised in the home, employees may leave their shift, contact their supervisor and still be compensated for their shift (assuming that their concern is validated). In any case, employees will not be retaliated against for leaving a shift
If you have a harassment, abuse, or discrimination story from your workplace that you would like to share with the Union, please contact HADit@staging.seiu775.org.
Harassment, abuse, and discrimination of caregivers is something that can and should be addressed. We’re going to keep working to make sure:
- Everyone feels safe at work and while giving and receiving care.
- Everyone feels respected when giving and receiving care.
- Everyone can continue to strengthen the long-term care workforce and system in our state.
- Caregivers are empowered to provide the best quality care possible.
Together, we can build a better future for all of us.